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God’s Love Can Grab a Child’s Heart

‘God’s Love Can Grab a Child’s Heart’

Passion for leading kids to Jesus becomes Moody alumni couple’s full-time ministry
  • Eric Romero
  • April 20, 2023
“If I could relive my life, I would devote my entire ministry to reaching children for God!” – D. L. Moody

“I would like to believe in Jesus.” A young Mexican boy gazes up at Hector Calix ’18, waiting for a response. Hector and his wife, Viridiana ’19, just finished leading a weeklong evangelistic club in the boy’s neighborhood.

“Do you know what Jesus did for you?” Hector asks.

“He died on the cross for my sins.”

“That’s right. Do you want to pray and ask Jesus to become your Savior?”

“Yes,” says the boy, holding back tears.

The boy trusted Christ for salvation that afternoon. “The next day he brought his sister and asked us to talk to her about Jesus,” Hector says. “She prayed and received Christ right then and there!” 

Seeing kids come to Christ is what drives the Calixes in ministry. Hector and Viri are bilingual and serve as full-time Spanish ministry coordinators with Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF), a global parachurch organization based in Missouri. They live in Chicago with their two young sons, Mateo and Adriel. Since joining CEF in 2018, they share the gospel with kids primarily through 5-Day Clubs and have led hundreds of clubs across Chicagoland.
 

‘Once they get here, they love it’

During a temperate Tuesday evening last July, a dozen children gathered at a busy public park in the Chicago neighborhood of Montclare. For 90 minutes, Hector, Viri, and four teen leaders presented the gospel in clear, simple, and engaging terms through teaching, stories, and songs.

Although CEF and the Calixes had to reduce their public ministry in 2020 and 2021 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the numbers are back up again—in summer 2022 the Calixes led 11 of the 63 5-Day Clubs that took place in the Chicago area, reaching 836 children.

“God still brings the kids out, and once they get here, they love it,” says Viri.

student leaders

 

Student leader Kayla Bitakis, 17, started serving with CEF and the Calixes in 2017 when she was 11 years old. “Soon after I got involved with CEF, I started to learn about the heart of God through seeing other teenagers’ relationships with the Lord,” she says. “This is my sixth summer of doing 5-Day Clubs, and the precious time I spend with the kids keeps me coming back.”

Globally, CEF shares the gospel with 25.4 million kids each year. But many remain unreached.

“The longer we’ve been on staff with CEF, the more we realize how many children still need to hear the gospel,” says Viri.
 

Serving kids together

On that Tuesday in July, as the children sat on a tarp sprawled out on the grass, the ministry team led the kids in praise songs about Jesus and a few getting-to-know-you games. The Calixes sang and laughed with the kids, whose joy was evident. Married since 2017, Hector and Viri feel privileged to work so closely with each other in children’s ministry.

leading songs

 

The couple met in 2014 at a two-week CEF summer training camp in Peoria, Illinois, where they worked side by side and bonded over similar Hispanic backgrounds. They discovered they were both brought illegally into the US at a young age. Hector came from Honduras and Viri from Mexico, ultimately settling in the Chicago area.

Their spiritual journeys were also similar. Originally raised Catholic in their native countries, they soon found Spanish-speaking services in evangelical churches—Hector in Zion, Illinois, and Viri in Moline, Illinois. Their neighborhood churches not only led them to Christ but also instilled in them a passion for children’s ministry.

The memory verse for this week’s club was Ephesians 2:8. The kids recited the verse several times, jumping, dancing, and spinning to certain words to help make it stick. Then the teen leaders took turns teaching the kids Bible stories or spiritual lessons using common objects and themes.
 

Emboldened passions

Trained by the Calixes, the teen leaders appeared comfortable in front of the kids. Although CEF provided Hector and Viri with expert instruction for ministering to children and coaching teen leaders, the ministry training they received at Moody was foundational to their approach in witnessing to children.

Hector enrolled at Moody in the fall of 2014 and thanks Elizabeth Smith, head of the Children and Family Ministry program, for cultivating his love for Scripture and desire to serve. “She really emboldened my passion for children’s ministry,” he says.

Hector graduated in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in Theology and believes this training enriches his work with children. “The better I know theology, the better I can explain it so kids can understand,” he says.

Viri graduated in 2019 with a degree in Ministry to Women. One of her biggest sources of inspiration came from program head Dr. Pam MacRae MA ’79. “Her teaching motivated and disciplined me to know God’s Word. Now I use what I learned at Moody to help girls love God and the Bible,” she says.
 

‘It was a God thing’

The path to Moody had its obstacles. As illegal immigrants, both Hector and Viri were undocumented and could not legally obtain government funding for college. They each grappled with the reality of having no viable future in the US. But God answered their prayers in unexpected ways.

In 2009, when Viri was 15, a close friend of the family adopted her, giving her legal status. “It was totally a God thing,” Viri says.

For Hector, the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, instituted in 2012, granted him legal standing. The program provides undocumented young adults with relief from deportation, renewable work permits, and access to college funding.

“I graduated high school shortly after DACA was passed, so God’s timing was perfect,” he says.
 

Reaching, teaching, discipling

After additional Bible teaching and lively singing, the club closes with a challenge to start a yearlong Bible-reading plan the kids can take home and an invitation to learn more about trusting in Jesus. Many of the children linger, not wanting to leave. The Calixes and teen leaders are happy to stay and engage with the boys and girls for a few minutes more.

They also invite the children to The Brook, a nearby multiethnic church that helps sponsor the club. There, the church will continue the work started by the Calixes and the CEF ministry team.

Hector and Viri have built a strong partnership with CEF. Their goal is to provide 500 Chicagoland churches with CEF resources designed for reaching, teaching, and discipling children.
 

Let the children come

During His earthly ministry, Jesus displayed a special love for children, having a genuine affection for their trusting and gentle spirits. As Christ’s servants, Hector and Viri have devoted their lives to following in the Lord’s footsteps, even as He’s brought them full-circle.

“The summer training camp where we first met in Peoria, we now help lead it in Chicago,” Viri says. “We are amazed by God when kids who were saved in our clubs come back later as teens and young adults to teach the next generation—continuing the cycle. What’s most rewarding is to see how God’s love can grab a child’s heart at a young age.”

About the Author

  • Eric Romero

Eric Romero is an editor for Marketing Communications at Moody Bible Institute.